Gustav Klimt’s Painting “Gold Fish” (1901 – 1902) As Semantically Opposite In Relation to Hopper’s “Night Windows”

Edward Hopper, “Night Windows”, 1928

Big apartment building of a solid construction and heavy arhitectural style which were dominant in the American urban settings before and right after WWII, attracts our eyes to three windows emphasizign different aspects of human life, in, probably, a rented apartment. In the right window we see either a kitchen or a bathroom, but metaphorically – a controlled hell in miniature, inevitable as a “technological” support of everyday human life in civilization. The middle window shows the backside of a headless woman occupied with cooking or washing. But it is the exhibitionistic effect of woman’s posture makes the middle window not just arousing the interest in the possible witnesses of the scene but semantically important (for understanding of the painter’s intentionality). What we, basically, see in all the three windows addresses the humanity of the woman living inside them. The window on the left is the only one that is opened. Should we call it a hygienic window?

Hopper makes sure that the opened window suggests a hygienic purpose not in the usual sense of ventilating the room with the cool air from the dark New York street. By the movement of the short curtain we understand that here we have a deal rather with the issue of letting extra-air out of the room. Here is the humorous punctum of the painting – woman’s protruded backside is associated with the next – opened window letting the woman’s air travelled through the room – out.

Three windows through which we see life inside cover three modality of living – controlled hell of the work supporting life or preparing for life, innocent exhibitionistic moment of shy showism, and always urgent hygienic efforts inevitable in everyday life. There are no paintings on the walls inside, not even bad ones, there are no photographs, even trivial ones. The walls are emptily naked, probably, painted, without even standard wall-paper.

On the other hand, Gustav Klimt has painted a magnificent woman’s back-and-buttocks, not less solid (although in another sense) than the American architectural style was before and after WWII, but – impecably and beautifully – as only rich and dense feminine flesh can be as a goal in itself. Hopper in his naughtily humorous mood made the woman’s rear prosaically, matter-of-factly covered by cargo (utilitarian) langere, noticeable through the two windows – one for a masked voyerism and the other for hygienic release.

Look at Klimt’s gold fish – this body cannot be even touched by man’s hand, only by human forehead or by cheek dreaming about laying on it its lips. We feel gold fish’s intelligence stepping back not only from the soft power of her body but from the interaction between it and the gaze confused by the mixture of shyness and daring, by diffused desire and possessive respect.

Gustav Klimt, Gold Fish, 1901 - 1902
Gustav Klimt, Gold Fish, 1901 – 1902

Some viewers will not find much difference between Klimt’s and Hopper’s ideas (like for many there is not much a difference between the two butts – of a weapon or a woman’s rump), but for some it will be a question of incompatibility between elevation of the beauty of feminine flesh and its prosaic – functional, reductionist perception. But, of course, it is not Edward Hopper who is in polemics with Gustav Klimt, it is the American reality according to Hopper, a reality in which preparation for life and arrangement of life are more important than life itself. No doubt, in this “genre” of preparation for/ arrangement of life American culture has achieved miracles – look at the beauty- and the fashion-industries. But the natural feminine body with its immanent shining as a goal in itself, without any sex-appeal and ad-connotation, without any seductive or teasing intention, without any business and money-making or calculating/manipulating interest, body minus enterpreneurship, body as a disinterested body of human disinterestedness is not rooted deeply in American soil.

Edward Hopper, “Conference at Night”, 1949
Edward Hopper, “Conference at Night”, 1949

The office looks like in a process of being established – tables are just put in, there is no chairs yet, but judging by the size and heaviness of the large books for documentation and keeping records there is a lot of expectation about this office, a lot of pragmatic dreams projected here. After WWII heavy-dense and agitating air of success was everywhere in the country, success in business and in career-making, through private entrepreneurship or administrative or scientific work. Hopper, probably, was critical about the flowering optimism of instrumental/functional atmosphere of those years.

All three protagonists of the painting have a common feature – their noses are a little like bewks of a predatory birds. Are the beaked human noses a feature invented by Hopper for characterizing the post-war American atmosphere of business excitement? Another humorous point is the funny nearness of the sitting man’s right hand to the woman’s bust and the geometrical similarity of the very direction of this hand with the surface of woman’s breasts, as if, he is encouraging her to raise them higher up. There is no sexual hint here on the part of the painter, of course, but rather a laughter at sublimation of human emotions into a non-sexual goals of building careers and making social success together.

Edward Hopper, “Room in New-York”, 1932
Edward Hopper, “Room in New-York”, 1932

The point of the “Room in New-York”, it seems, is not the fact that the man and woman each are occupied with his and her own interest and aren’t paying attention to one another – you cannot be romantically focused all the time. But what is unusual and interesting in the painting – it is the approximateness, non-discernability of their faces. The protagonists, certainly, belong to the same race, although it is not possible to describe with certainty their facial features. They are like… aliens from Hollywood movies. We can not empirically identify their faces as belonging to concrete – unique human beings. Is Hopper here expressing his opinion about mass men, people with standardized reactions and tastes, formed by mass culture of standardized entertainment?